By: Kris Erskine
Athens, Alabama, is a special place and we have special people. If you were to do a search online for “famous people from Athens, Alabama,” you’d find a list of folks from Athens that have made a name for themselves. Most recently, perhaps, is Athens’ own Philip Rivers. In case you don’t know about Philip Rivers, he is a retired NFL quarterback, and one of the best. People like Rivers make a name for Athens. We cannot all be on TV each Sunday throwing a football, and likely many of us don’t want to be anyway. Yet we are all important to Athens. Some of us are university students, some are retirees, some Athenians are descended from enslaved Americans in this country, and some are new immigrants who are still learning English. There are sharecroppers and welders, veterans and missionaries, retired teachers who have taught many of the residents of this town, and students who only arrived a few months ago. There are single mothers and grandmothers, people of color and people of no color. Men, women, rocket scientists, and high school dropouts. Roofers and professors. Democrats and Republicans. People of all religious and ethnic backgrounds.
I am a history education professor at Athens State University and each semester in the classes I teach, students are asked give a brief introduction of themselves. I am always surprised at how interesting everyone’s lives are. Even for my students who are generally among the younger demographic, I am amazed and humbled at what they have accomplished, or have suffered through, or the talents they have, and it often makes me want to take up a new hobby, in their footsteps. You have these same experiences. And more.
Several years ago I started a project at the university to preserve the stories of local residents. This is called The Stories Project. And The Stories Project wants you! We want you to tell us your life stories. We want those stories preserved for future generations. And these are not just your stories, these are collectively the story of Athens, Alabama. These are your stories, but they are also what makes this town special.
I frequently meet people whose stories I want to tell. Almost always these are old-timers who have been around a while. When asked if they would be willing to do an oral history, the most common response I hear – which may be what you are thinking at this very moment – is “I don’t have anything interesting to talk about.” I promise you, you do have interesting things to talk about. Not only are they interesting, but the younger generations need to hear about them.
The Stories Project has two objectives. The first is what I’ve explained above – to preserve the stories of this great little town and the surrounding area. This is not limited only to those who live inside the city limits, we want to preserve the stories of anyone in Athens, Limestone County, and North Alabama. How do we preserve your story? We sit down with you for an interview, record the conversation, and then upload it to our online archive and make it available for anyone in the world to find and listen to.
For the second objective, I need the help of my students at Athens State University. All future high school history and social science teachers that graduate from the university must take a teaching methods course. Basically, how to teach history
to high school students. In this course, students must do an oral history interview. Our Athens State students are the ones recording and preserving all of the Athens, Alabama, stories. My hope is that these future history teachers will someday go into their own classrooms and ask their students to do the same kind of oral history. Perhaps high school students will only interview their grandparents, but what an opportunity for the elder statesmen and stateswomen of this region to pass along their stories and life lessons to the next generations. When students read about history in a textbook, they are generally not engaged with the material. Think about your days studying history in high school. I doubt you found your textbook interesting either. But when you have someone
telling you their stories, like it was yesterday, and it is so alive, that history is both engaging and so very meaningful.
You, dear reader, are so important to this town. You do have a story to tell. Please reach out me at the email address below so we can preserve your story. Forever. Each month we will spotlight one of the oral histories we record here in this column.
The Stories Project, a project developed by Dr. Kris Erskine for his students, future history and social science teachers in and around Athens. The Stories Project seeks to preserve the stories of average folks in and around the Athens area. If you’d like to be interviewed and have your story preserved and available on the Athens State University digital archive, please go to AthensStateStory.com and make a request through our online contact form. We would love to hear from you.
By: Kris Erskine, Assistant Professor of Secondary History / Social Studies Education
Athens State University